Human Skills vs. Soft Skills: Old Wine in New Bottles?
As you can plainly see from this search of GoCertify, I’ve been writing about soft skills in the context of IT career enhancement and development for years. Actually, I've been beating this drum since the 1990s, for Certification Magazine, Tom’s IT Pro, Global Knowledge, and others.
That’s why I read this recent GoCertify Newsletter item with extra interest: "Amazon Web Services Assesses IT's Most In-Demand Job Skills." Why? Because it introduces new skills categories for IT professionals — namely, digital skills and human skills.
I found myself especially interested in the list (which originated from research done by online learning facilitator Coursera) of "Top Human Job Skills for 2023," which I have clipped from the AWS blog post in question. Take a look:
That blog post's author, Zac Rule, equates human skills with soft skills (see Section 2) and explains that such skills "include a range of cognitive, social, and emotional domains such as critical thinking, decision-making and leadership" (emphasis his). He also goes on to assert the following (quoted verbatim, including emphasis in italics):
"Many of the human skill development courses that learners accessed on Coursera this year (such as communication, collaboration, and people management) are relatively consistent year-over-year. However, this year, demand for courses that addressed change management, and storytelling, increased drastically."
Soft Skills vs. Human Skills
Because Mr. Rule equates these two labels, it’s interesting that he focuses on the latter instead of the former. I guess it’s a way to amp up interest in a familiar and perhaps time-worn area of concern for those involved in worker development, upskilling and career enhancement.
I certainly can’t disagree that this stuff is important for IT pros in particular and (with some reservations or qualifications) for workforce participants in general. In my opinion, in fact, soft/human skills become increasingly important as people advance in their working lives and take on more seniority and responsibility.
That’s because work, particularly as one progresses in one's career, becomes more and more about interacting with other people and less about interacting with technology. The more that you gain experience and insight from ongoing participation in life and work, ideally, the stronger your soft skills become.
Exploring the List of Human/Soft Skills
I’ll copy the list and bullet it out, with some brief discussion and added ruminations on each element. But first, an observation: It’s at least arguable (if not obvious) that all 10 elements shown play some role in managing or directing others to get their jobs done.
At a minimum, then, all these skills are important to those who wish to manage others, or to serve as technical leaders or advisors. I think this explains why Mr. Rule puts such weight on these topics, and stresses their importance in the workplace. And for what it's worth, I strongly agree.
Here’s the list, with some additional info:
Storytelling: the art of conveying information and guidance through careful, structured delivery of stories (things that have happened, with initial conditions, events and evolution along the way, and some set of results or outcomes) — Typical instances include cautionary (bad outcomes resulting from dicey inputs, assumptions, or unexpected events) or exemplary (good outcomes resulting from due diligence, proper research, planning for trouble, and so on) tales. An excellent way to counsel and instruct fellow workers without shaming, blaming, or even mentioning people on the spot.
Change management: a formal methodology, including best principles, practices and processes for making, tracking, and managing change across all kinds of information — This is extremely important and valuable when managing and controlling large, complex and distributed systems of all kinds (including those based on technology and otherwise).
Organizational Development: tools, methods, and approaches for building dynamic, flexible, and resilient organizations — This is especially important for organizations seeking to achieve ongoing digital transformation that involves continuous improvement and constant updates for tools, technologies, processes and procedures.
Influencing: the arts and methods for guiding and shaping people’s perceptions and understandings of the way things work — This goes way beyond (but incudes) social media to embrace all forms of communication with purposes related to an organization’s goals, objectives, mission, and intent.
People Management: the formal study of organizations, their structure and management as taught in business schools and related curricula, and as practiced in organizations of all kinds, public and private — I can think of no better place to start digging deeper into this subject matter than at the American Management Association (AMAnet.org, the structure of whose course offerings is itself an education).
Culture: the social and professional context within which an organization shapes and describes itself — As someone with multiple degrees in anthropology (often described as being “the study of culture”), this reduces the grand scope of human culture to the guiding principles that drive how and organizations presents and conducts itself in the workplace, and in relation to the world at large.
Decision Making: best principles and practices for assessing situations, gathering information, analyzing alternatives, and choosing among them to ensure best possible outcomes in line with an organization’s goals and objectives
Communication Planning: Best principles and practices to formulate and execute a communication and content delivery strategy for an organization, including internal and external communications — This encompasses enormous responsibilities, intense coordination with executives and stakeholders, and an incredible volume of work that must be organized, consistent, and constantly maintained.
Notice how the threads of organization, people and project management, best organization processes and procedures, governance and control, communication and emotional intelligence, and more, all weave throughout this repository of “human skills.”
I’m not sure I’d present the same inventory myself, but I do understand what AWS and Coursera are trying to capture and present with that inventory. Long story short: You could do a lot worse than to investigate what Coursera offers along these lines, and what AWS found was popular and practical, in figuring out how to build out your own soft/human skills inventory. 'Nuff said!